Anglican Head, Pope Discuss Christian-Muslim Relations

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, met privately with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican where the two religious leaders discussed Christian-Muslim relations.

The 20-minute meeting on Monday came months after Williams, the spiritual leader of the 77-million member Anglican Communion, drew fire for suggesting that it was "unavoidable" to adopt some aspects of Sharia law in the British legal system.

An Anglican spokesman said the visit with the pope, who also discussed in the meeting interfaith dialogue and his impression of his visit to the United States last month, was "warm and friendly."

Earlier this year, Williams had sparked a storm of criticism when he suggested in a speech that it was "unavoidable" that some aspects of Sharia law would be adopted in the British legal system. His comments were made at a time when the Muslim population has reached 1.8 million in Britain and continues to grow.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican's top official for relations with Islam, had criticized the Anglican head as mistaken and "naive" for his Sharia remarks.

While many religious leaders did not agree with Williams' comments, some – including the Rev. Joel Edwards of the Evangelical Alliance – came to his defense calling Christians and wider public to join the debate on how faith should operate in the political and legal sphere.

Edwards urged a "ceasefire" in the row between people of faith and those with no faith over the place of religious belief under the rule of law.

Monday's meeting was the first with the pope since the Sharia law storm.

During the visit, it was announced that Cardinal Ivan Dias, the Indian prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, will participate in July's Lambeth Conference, which brings Anglican bishops together in London once every 10 years.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, may also attend the conference.

Williams is in Rome to convene the 7th Building Bridges Seminar, an annual series which brings together a range of internationally recognized Christian and Muslim scholars for an intensive study of relevant Biblical and Koranic texts.

The seminar, which is organized in partnership with Georgetown University, is scheduled for May 6-8. The theme for this year's seminar is "Communicating the Word: Revelation, Translation and Interpretation in Christianity and Islam."

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